Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. One of the most exciting novels you’ll ever read: a dazzling, ingenious, visionary exploration of the theme of eternal recurrence, told through six genre-bending novellas. It’s much better than the movie and gets richer with re-readings.
The Tragedy of Arthur, by Arthur Phillips. Witty, self-reflexive novel about a forged—or is it rediscovered?—Shakespeare play called The Tragedy of Arthur. Fans of Nabokov and Auster will enjoy this tale, which is post-modern in the best sense.
Too Much Happiness, by Alice Munro. This collection by a contemporary short story master shows why she won the Nobel Prize in Literature. “Wenlock Edge” and “Child’s Play” will linger in your mind for weeks.
The Maddaddam Trilogy, by Margaret Atwood. Three visionary novels that extrapolate from present-day perils—climate change, genetic engineering, the commodification of everything—to produce a chilling but ultimately hopeful picture of a post-apocalyptic future.
Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher. This hilarious and finally touching academic satire is written in the form of recommendation letters. I recommend it enthusiastically and without any reservations whatsoever.
The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert. If you’re a climate-change denier, you’ll no longer deny after you read this sobering book about how humans are bringing about the sixth massive extinction in the history of our planet. Every person in the U.S. Congress should read it immediately.
My Life as a Fake, by Peter Carey. This brilliant, piercingly funny novel about literary forgery, based on the real-life Ern Malley case, is also a savvy rewriting of Frankenstein in which the Creature is a poet.
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride. Strikingly unique stream-of-consciousness narration by the unnamed protagonist makes this debut novel stand out from the Bildungsroman pack. It’s a challenging but fascinating depiction of sibling love and female identity.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler. The sharply funny voice of Rosemary Cooke grips us in this story of an unusual family—parents and three children, one of whom is a chimpanzee. The novel raises important questions about the blurry lines between humans and other animals.
Zero K, by Don DeLillo. The middle section of this beautiful, disturbing novel is narrated by a woman in suspended animation. It will haunt you long after you close the cover.
Best Boy, by Eli Gottlieb. Days in the life of Todd Aaron, and adult on the autism spectrum, told by Todd himself. A truthful, compassionate, moving depiction of ability, disability, and unexpected wisdom.
The Ends of the World, by Peter Brannen. Elegantly summarizes the causes of earth’s five great extinctions. This eye-opening history boggles the mind with the strange and wonderful beings that lived on this planet and the devastating geophysical changes the globe has undergone. A sobering fact: all five extinctions were brought about or exacerbated by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The Overstory, by Richard Powers. In this magnificent, visionary novel, Powers weaves together an epic tale of nine human characters, including a Vietnam vet, a botanist, a disabled video game designer, and a visual artist. But the most important presences in the novel are our non-human neighbors. At once a moving plea to halt the human destruction of our biome, a scientific defense of plant intelligence, and a foray into the ethics of ecological activism, this novel will change your way of thinking about nature. When you finish it, you’ll want to take a long walk in a forest and plant a tree.